Neil retired in September. The 70-year-old was the deputy manager of a car workshop in the UK, supplying garages with car parts and accessories. After working since he was 17 and postponing retirement for six years, he decided it was finally time. But barely a month had passed when Neil (who declined to give his last name) realized the totals weren’t right. The state pension would not cover the cost of rent, utility bills, groceries and other expenses. He was soon looking for a job again.
In addition to his money worries, he also missed dealing with people. “Of course there are big financial worries, but what I miss the most is the social aspect of the work. I used to work for a happy team of people with a lot of banter,” he says. Now he’s looking for a part-time job in sales, which he says he’s very good at. “Exceptional customer service” has always been his goal. With the switch to electric cars, he no longer sees a future in his old trade. Instead, as a watch collector, he would like to sell antiques or work in a bookshop a few days a week.
“It’s a pretty outdated view that people retire and sit at home and do nothing,” he added.
Many people over 65, like Neil, hope to become part of the so-called ‘non-retirees’. The cost of living crisis, opportunities for more flexible working and the post-lockdown realization of the importance of socializing have all coincided, prompting many to look back to work and secure employment.
Recent analysis shows that workers aged 50-64 are leaving the UK workforce because they have opted for early retirement. But according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people over 65 working or looking for work reached nearly 1.5 million in the summer – the highest level on record – before slipping slightly more recently. The total number of over-50s is now close to 10.5 million, matching pre-pandemic levels.
Older workers are often caught in the association between “ableism and ageism”, and older workers in turn internalize some of these traits, which severely affects their self-confidence.
Many more over-65s are returning to the labor market and a growing number are – anecdotally – looking for new opportunities. According to Stuart Lewis, executive director of Rest Less, a digital community and advocacy group for older people, official labor market data appears to be showing signs of a return to a long-term trend towards more economically active older people.
“What we have seen in recent months, particularly among the over 65s, is that they are going back to work. We believe this is the beginning of the big trend of non-retirement. Anecdotally, a lot of people are thinking about coming back,” says Lewis.
Pandemic lockdowns have forced so many – especially the older demographic – to reevaluate their priorities. They have overhauled their working lives, giving up long hours, arduous commutes and jobs they didn’t particularly enjoy. They also took on caring responsibilities and tried to better manage their own illness.
[ Older workers could help solve the talent crisis for understaffed employers ]
But the UK state pension, which is currently £9,627 (€11,177) a year – up to €13,171 in the Republic – is being eroded by higher costs of goods and services as inflation rises. Faced with higher energy bills and the rising cost of basic necessities – from vegetable oil and pasta to milk and bread – many older workers are now reversing their retirement plans.
Some employers have seen an opportunity given the UK’s skills and labor shortages, exacerbated by post-Brexit restrictions on foreign workers. By targeting older people, they can hire workers for shorter shifts or odd days that aren’t popular with younger workers, who often opt for the most lucrative hours. Research also shows that an intergenerational workforce is more creative and can be better for everyone, with older people often having invaluable institutional knowledge and sharing life experiences with younger colleagues.
Fuller’s, the British pub and hotel chain, has recently launched its first recruitment campaign targeting older workers.
“We can offer the ultimate flexibility so if someone is an early riser or night person, or just wants to work on a Friday or not on a Tuesday when caring for grandchildren, we can accommodate that,” said Dawn Browne, Fuller’s director of people and talent. In return, the company hopes to recruit staff for shorter, less popular shifts that don’t pay as well as a full day.
While offering similar perks for all employees, Browne says they appeal even more to an older demographic, with staff discounts, help with healthcare costs, and a 24/7 GP service. “This is particularly valuable.”
This is confirmed by the ONS Over 50s Lifestyle Study. It showed that flexible working hours are a priority for the 58 percent of 50-65 year olds who have left their job during the pandemic and would consider returning to work.
For Jaci Quennell, a 65-year-old freelance social worker and psychotherapist, flexibility is key. The ability to work from home and conduct online consultations and meetings has enabled her to work longer hours.
After reducing her hours of work in recent years after an unsuccessful spinal surgery – effectively slowing down her working life – she has now reversed course. She will soon take on a higher role and set up small children’s homes in cooperation with the local authorities.
“I’ll be managing over 100 employees,” says Quennell. “This demographic can be incredibly productive given the opportunity and the flexibility. By doing half of my meetings remotely, it’s less physically demanding.”
Around a third of employed people in England are aged 50 or over, with around nine million people aged 50 to 64 and more than 1.3 million aged over 65. But not all employers offer what it takes to retain older workers or recognize the importance of recruiting them.
Emily Andrews, who works at the Center for Aging Better, a charitable foundation working to give people in their 50s and 60s equal access to work, says there should be more older people in the workforce.
“Employers are still not trying to take advantage of this demographic,” says Andrews, adding that in many workplaces there isn’t a culture that accommodates older workers and shows that they are valued. Andrews also stresses that recruitment campaigns and the language used in job advertisements are also largely geared towards hiring younger workers and many employers – despite the pandemic – are not entirely flexible about how employees can work.
Companies often don’t offer support for people — of any age — with health conditions, she adds, and workers 50 and older are least likely to receive off-the-job training, which impacts their ability to come up with new skills on the job Stay abreast and find another job.
Older workers often get caught up in the connection between “ableism and ageism,” says Andrews, and older workers in turn internalize some of these traits, which takes a toll on their confidence.
Thomas Roulet, associate professor of organizational theory at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, says there’s still a “stigma” about hiring older workers. While a multi-generational organization can be very creative, it can also increase conflict.
“Both younger and older generations have prejudices against each other – older workers believe millennials are entitled and expect everything from their employer and an immediate payout. Younger workers believe that older workers have had it easy and are unable to adapt to new trends,” says Roulet.
However, the reality is that millennials and older generations do indeed share the same motivational drivers and career goals. While older workers don’t want special treatment, they want to be on an equal footing with younger workers.
Colin Serlin (76) says older people need to think differently about how they work. After 40 years in the real estate business, he has a master’s degree in psychotherapy and will soon start his own practice – The Unretiring – offering courses for recently retired people, developed in collaboration with therapists and academics. “People get bored, depressed and even worse sick because they don’t know what to do with themselves. I hope to change that,” he says.
“People have to think more entrepreneurially. Either to do something on my own or to be a so-called “entrepreneur” within a larger organization,” he added. “In the 20’s and 30’s people were often led down a certain path. The main thing now is to re-evaluate what you want from life.
“You just have to have a different mindset.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022